Lover's Bite Chapter 10

An hour before dawn, Jack's cell phone rang.

"Where are you?"

The voice belonged to Frank Magnarelli, the last person he'd wanted to hear from tonight. He glanced around, sensed the area. Topaz was outside with the others. "I've left the state. Game over."

"The game is over when we say it's over, Jack. And since we don't have Rivera yet, it's not over."

"You've got nothing left that I need."


"No, and you didn't give me the information you had to begin with."

"We gave you-"

"Let's talk about what you didn't give me, shall we? You didn't tell me about my mother. You didn't tell me what you knew about Topaz's mother, either."

There was silence for a long moment. Then, "So you know."

"I know. So does she."

"I'll contact you tomorrow night."

"Don't bother. This cell phone number will be out of commission by then."

"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Jack. We know where you are."

He blinked, stunned.

"Sorry, pal. It just doesn't take as long to triangulate a signal as it used to. Tomorrow night, Jack. I guarantee you, we'll have something you want very badly by then."

The line went dead, and Jack sat there, feeling, for the first time, afraid of what those bastards at the CIA might be up to. He'd used them, played them, fed them tidbits that would do them no real good, so he could get information on Topaz's mother. But they knew, they'd known all along, that Mirabella DuFrane wasn't really dead. Magnarelli hadn't exactly confirmed it on the phone, but Jack sensed it to his bones. Which meant they'd been playing him, using him, feeding him tidbits that would do him no real good.

They wanted Reaper. And they would do anything to get him. Reaper had been right about that.

And now Jack was between a rock and a hard place. He couldn't warn the others without admitting the game he'd been playing. Doing that would lose him any hope of regaining Topaz's trust for good. No, he had to play this out, see it through to the end.

No one would get hurt. He would make sure of that. He just had to out-con the biggest con artists in the business: the federal government.

By the time they'd unloaded their things and chosen bedrooms-separate bedrooms, at Topaz's insistence-the day sleep was already tugging her under. And she was glad of it. She didn't know how she felt about Jack anymore. Reaper's suspicions made sense, and yet she couldn't quite convince herself that Jack was the one feeding information to the CIA. She couldn't. And it was stupid of her, because she, of all people, knew how duplicitous he could be.

That alone told her that her heart was in dangerous waters. Again.

Maybe it always would be, where Jack was concerned. She ached for him, cried over him, missed him even when he was only in the next room, and yet she expected him to hurt her again if she gave him even half a chance. And, she realized, she was giving him way more than that. Everything she had once felt for him had come rushing back during this time with him, and it was stronger than ever.

She felt doomed.

When the sun set again and she came awake, Jack was already out of bed and taking up space in the bungalow's only bathroom, which irritated her. Feeling irritated with him was a relief, though. Far better than wanting him and aching for him and expecting him to break her heart all over again at any moment.

She pounded on the door when she heard the shower running. "Hey! Since when do you get first dibs on the shower? You know I need my time in the bathroom first thing in the evening."

He didn't answer, though she knew perfectly well he could hear her. The door was unlocked, so she went in. He was safely on the other side of the shower curtain, after all. "Jack, come on. I know you heard me. How much longer are you going to be, anyway?"

He opened the curtain and stood there in the spray, naked and gorgeous, water running in rivulets, clinging in droplets, making his skin gleam and her blood heat. She couldn't look away, no matter how hard she tried. God, she'd never seen a man more beautiful or a body more perfect. And she'd never wanted anyone the way she wanted him.

"You're welcome to join me."

Forcibly, and with no small effort, she lifted her gaze to his, though she hadn't had nearly enough of a lingering look at the rest of him. She shook her head.

He shrugged and yanked the curtain closed again. "Your loss. I have to go out for a little while, and I thought I'd get it over with early."

"Go out where?" Her suspicions were already aroused.

"Just going to do a little reconnaissance."

"Uh-huh. And you're taking one of the gang with you?"

"Wasn't planning on it."

"Why not?"

The water stopped abruptly, and he yanked the curtain aside again. She couldn't keep her eyes away, so she handed him a towel and didn't bother to try.

"Because they're not my gang," he said. "But I'm more than willing to take you along. You want to go with me?"

She thought about it. If he were offering to take her along, then he must not have anything to hide. Unless, of course, he was counting on her saying no. Jack was too smart not to have thought of that angle.

God, what kind of a relationship could she ever hope to have with a man she trusted so little?

That wasn't the problem, though, and she knew it. If he loved her, she could and would trust him to the moon and back. But he didn't. Never had. Wouldn't even say it. That was one lie even Jack couldn't bring himself to tell.

"I think I'll sit this one out," she said at last. And she had her reasons, even though she felt as guilty as hell for them.

"Okay. I'll fill you in if I learn anything. Shouldn't be more than an hour." He finished rubbing himself down, anchored the towel around his lean hips and headed for the door. "Shower's all yours."


"Are you sure you don't want me to stay? Maybe, scrub your back or, uh...something."

"I think I'll manage without you, thanks."

He sent her a wink and left the room.

Topaz undressed and got into the shower as soon as he closed the door behind him, rushing through her morning rituals, because there was something she needed to do before he returned.

As soon as she was dressed, she checked the bungalow to make sure he was gone. He wasn't around, and the others seemed to be leaving her to herself for the moment. So she went into Jack's room and began a methodical search through his belongings.

And what she found there was like a red-hot blade sliding cleanly into her heart.

The money-her money-was in the bottom of his duffel bag, wrapped in plastic. It was sorted into neatly banded bundles of crisp, cold cash. Her cash. She had no doubt of that. She even counted it, and it was exactly 250,000 dollars. The exact amount he'd taken from her, minus the half he'd returned. This was the other half, the half he'd claimed he didn't have and promised to get for her.

He'd been lying to her. Again. She wasn't even surprised.

But her heart broke all over again, just the same. She hadn't expected anything different from Jack. She would have been a fool if she had. But, God, how she'd let herself hope.

"Since when does it take three of you to talk to me?" Jack asked. Magnarelli was familiar to him, of course, but the other two were strangers. "Doesn't matter. I have nothing for you."

The three men, wearing nearly identical gray suits and sunglasses, stood around him in what he imagined was supposed to be a menacing manner. And it might have been, had he been human. But he wasn't. He was stronger, faster and smarter. And he would sense an attack coming before they could go from making the decision to moving on it.

Even if he couldn't read their thoughts-the agency had apparently trained these special agents to block them-he would still sense danger. At least, he was fairly certain he would.

"Of course you do," Magnarelli said. "You're going to tell us where Rivera is."

"If I knew, I might. Providing you could come up with something for me in return. But since you can't, and since I have no clue where the Grim One is keeping himself these days, I'm afraid we're at an impasse."

"You are going to help us, Jack."

Jack met Magnarelli's steel-gray eyes, which he could see clearly behind the dark glasses. "Look, I've been keeping you informed as to his whereabouts for more than a week now. It's not my fault you let him slip away yet again."

"We think maybe it is. We think you've been doling out your information to us too late to do us any good. And we think it's been deliberate."

"Look, I can't help you anymore. He suspects me already. He tried to trick me into sending you to Philly just to confirm it. Fortunately, I saw through the ruse. Hell, if the whole CIA can't keep track of one vampire hit man, how the hell do you expect me to?"

"You know where he is," Magnarelli said, while his two colleagues stood silently, feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped in front of their dicks. "And you're going to tell us. When you do, we'll tell you where to find Mirabella DuFrane for your girlfriend."

Jack tilted his head to one side. "Hell, even if I knew where he was, that wouldn't be enough. You guys have been holding out on me. To even tempt me to give you that kind of information, I'd need a hell of a lot more."

"Such as?"

Jack pretended to mull on it a bit. "I'd still need Mirabella's location, of course. And I'd also need the recipe you all used to create Gregor's goon squad. The drones, I believe he called them." What a mild word, he thought, for that army of killers.

"Not in a million-"

"And," Jack went on, not even waiting for the agent to finish his refusal, "the second of Rivera's trigger words. I already know the first one, the one that sends him into a mindless killing rage. For my own protection, I'd like to have the one that snaps him out of it."

"If you're going to turn him over to us, you won't need it."

"Tell you where he is, you mean. I'm not volunteering to gift wrap and deliver him for you. And to reiterate, I said I might tell you, if I knew. Which I don't."

Magnarelli shook his head slowly, then removed his sunglasses and met Jack's eyes. "For that kind of compensation, you'll have to deliver him into our hands. Drug him, bind him and deliver him. Right here. Tomorrow night."

"Right," Jack said with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. "You're asking for the impossible."

"Yes, but we're offering a bonus. Something better and more valuable to you than any of the stuff you've demanded. Something you didn't even think to ask for."

Jack frowned, and his senses went on alert. "What would that be, Magnarelli?"

"When we tell you where to find Mirabella DuFrane, she won't be dead."

Jack went stock-still and probed the agent's mind. But he found nothing there but an impenetrable brick wall. "In other words, you're threatening to kill her unless I do as you ask."

"We're not asking you, Jack. We're telling you. Bring us Rivera, or the woman dies."

Jack studied the other two men. They weren't quite as adept at shielding their thoughts as Magnarelli was, but it didn't matter, because they didn't know anything.

Jack contemplated his reply for a long moment, and finally settled on what it would be. "I think you're bluffing."

"Do you?"

"Yeah, I do. If you had Mirabella DuFrane, you'd have brought her here, shown her to me as proof. It would be a far better way to leverage me into doing what you want."

"You're very good, Jack. You're right, we don't have physical custody of the woman at the moment. But it doesn't matter if she's with us or not. We know where she is. We have her under surveillance, and we have an operation in place and ready to launch. We can grab her at any time."

"I don't think so," Jack said, pushing his slight advantage. "I think that if you knew where she was and had the ability to do so, you'd have grabbed her already."

"Is that what you think?"

Jack nodded. "That's what I think."

"Are you willing to bet her life on that, Jack?"

Jack wished he could read the man. But he couldn't. Still, he knew better than to show any sign of weakness or uncertainty. This bastard would pounce on it if he did.

"Tomorrow night, Jack," Magnarelli said. "Right here. Midnight. Bring Rivera, or your girlfriend's mother dies."

When he left the agents, Jack did so in a blinding blur of motion too fast for human eyes to detect. He couldn't risk being followed. And just to be sure he wouldn't be traced again, he tossed the cell phone into the fathomless waters of the Gulf on the way.

Hell, what was he going to do now?

He couldn't risk Mirabella's life. She was Topaz's mother, for God's sake. But if he told Topaz the truth, he would also have to admit what he'd been doing, and he doubted she would ever believe that he had never truly put Reaper at risk, much less that he'd been working for information that would help her in her quest, rather than for money.

He supposed there was really only one option. He had to find Mirabella before the agents did.

And come what may, he was going to have to talk to Reaper.

He intended to do that the minute he got back. But he felt a ripple of emotion that turned into a wave as soon as he got within range of the bungalow. Topaz. Something was wrong.

Jack surged inside, then up the stairs, following his sense of her all the way. It was coming from his room, not her own. He flung the door open, then stopped and just stared.

She was sitting on the bed, her eyes red and wet, her entire body shaking. His duffel bag was in front of her, the stacks of bills all around her. As he stared at her, searching for words, she lifted her head and met his eyes.

"I can't believe I was starting to trust you again."


"I don't understand, Jack. I don't understand. Why carry it around with you like this? Why didn't you spend it or put it into a bank or a safe or-"

"Because I was going to give it back."

She closed her eyes, and her head fell forward. Her pain was so intense, and he felt it so keenly that it made his stomach churn.

"Please don't lie to me anymore," she whispered.

"I've had it all along, Topaz." He came the rest of the way into the room, but he didn't touch her or get too close. "My original intention was to give you back half, convince you Gregor still had the other half, and keep it for myself. I admit that. I know it was a lousy plan, and I'm an asshole for ever having concocted it. But the fact is, Topaz, I couldn't go through with it."

"Why not?" She didn't look at him.

He couldn't believe she was actually listening to him. But she seemed to be. She wasn't yelling or arguing or accusing. Just listening.

"To tell you the truth, I've been going nuts trying to figure that out myself. I only knew I wanted you to trust me again. I wanted to make up for the pain I've caused you. And if I admitted I'd had the money the whole time, I was sure you would never trust me, and never give me the chance to make things right. I've been trying to figure out a way to give it back without admitting I'd had it all along. Maybe that's cowardly of me. But that's the truth, Topaz. That's why I haven't spent a nickel of it or put it away. Hell, I've never spent a cent of your money, ever since I took it from you. I think maybe, deep down, I knew all along I couldn't do that to you. I think I knew from the day I left you that I had to give it back."

Again her question was simple. "Why?"

He sat on the edge of the bed, reached out to touch her face, to tip it up so he could look into her eyes. "Because I love you."

She blinked. Tears flooded her eyes, and she closed them against the pain. The hope. "Don't say that unless you-"

"You know I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it. I've never said it before. That was the one thing I could never bring myself to lie about, Topaz. But as it turns out, it wouldn't have been a lie. I've loved you all along. This isn't a con, and it's not a game, and it's not some kind of penance I'm trying to pay. I love you. I didn't realize it until I walked in here and saw you with that money, and thought I'd finally lost you for good."

She opened her eyes again. She was still crying.

"Do you believe me?"

"I want to," she whispered. "God, I want to."

"Then why don't you?"

"Because if I believe that and then you take it away from me again...I don't think I'll survive. You're asking me to reach into a bear trap, to grab the bait and trust that it won't snap my hand off. No, it's worse. It's way worse than that. Do you know how long I've dreamed of hearing you say those words to me? Do you understand that there's nothing I've ever wanted more, not in my entire life?"

He just held her eyes. Her questions didn't require answers.

"It's too late, anyway," she said.

"Too late?" he asked.

"For me, I mean." She got up from the bed and moved closer to him. "If you're lying to me, Jack Heart, I'm done for."

And then, to Jack's utter astonishment, she flung her arms around his neck, and kissed him. Hungrily, desperately, passionately kissed him, and he could taste her tears on her lips. She shoved the duffel and the money off the bed, pushing him back and climbing on top of him, wrestling with his clothes and her own. Jack was overwhelmed with the power of her desire and of his. It was a thunderstorm of emotion and release, of yearning and denial, of pain and relief. Their lips never broke contact as their clothes tore and flew, and then they were flesh against flesh, straining and pressing to get closer, then closer still, kissing as if they were starving for the taste of each other, as if they would never stop.

She was straddling him when she took him inside her, and she tipped her head back, closed her eyes. "Say it again, Jack."

"I love you," he told her, driving into her and feeling almost too much pleasure to bear. "I love you, dammit. I love you."

Topaz lay in his arms, spent and sated and feeling as if she'd been lifted from the pits of hell to the heights of heaven, all on the wings of those three words.

And at the same time she felt the dizzying fear that she was going to fall further than ever before, and that it would surely be fatal this time. She loved him. She loved him with everything in her, but she didn't trust him. She wanted to believe he loved her, but the best she could manage was to believe he might think he did, for the moment, but that it wouldn't last. And it wasn't so much that she was willing to take the inevitable pain just for the bliss of having him back, even for a little while. It wasn't that she was willing at all. It was that she had no choice. She'd been trying to get over him for almost a year and hadn't managed to even come close.

So let it kill her this time. It would be better if it did.

"Much as I'd like to lie here, holding you until sunrise," he said, "we have things to do. We need to be looking for your mother."

She nodded, her cheek rubbing against his chest. "I know."

"Have you thought about what you'll say to her when we find her?"

"Endlessly. But I still don't know. I suppose I'll just look into her eyes and see what words come tumbling out of me." She bit her lower lip. "If she even wants to see me."

"She will."

Lifting her head, Topaz looked into his eyes. "How can you be so sure?"

"I just am. Trust me."

Those two words were like a blade twisting in her heart. She looked away quickly, then got out of the bed and began to dress. Jack got up, too, threw his clothes on, and then gathered up the bundles of money that were scattered across the floor like the bricks of a fallen building and put them into the plastic bag that had held them. He set the bag on the bed. "You should put this somewhere safe, until you can get it home."

She looked at the money. "I don't want it." And then she looked at him. "I didn't want the other half, either. I never did. All I ever wanted was your love, Jack. Money doesn't mean shit to me. You do."

He smiled a little, came closer and ran a hand through her hair. "Well, now you've got both." Then he smacked her on the bottom. "Go on, go put it someplace for now, and we'll get moving."

"All right." She took the bag and left the room, tucked the money deep into her own bedroom closet and locked the bungalow when they stepped outside. The others were gathered on the back porch of their own cabin, which faced the ocean.

"It really is beautiful here," Topaz said softly.

"We were beginning to wonder about you two," Reaper said, rising from his chair.

"I wasn't." Roxy sent Topaz a knowing wink, followed by a puzzled frown. And no wonder, Topaz thought. If her expression matched what was going on inside her head, then she must look more frightened and resigned to a cruel fate than sated and well loved.

"Do you have any sort of a plan?" Reaper asked, and Topaz realized that Jack must have communicated mentally with the gang leader to enlist everyone's help in the search.

Jack nodded. "There are two places within a fifty-mile radius that vampires tend to frequent. I think we should split up into teams, check out both of them, and question every vampire we come across. Moreover, we elicit their help, if they seem trustworthy and willing. Have them ask all their contacts, too."

"Sounds like a good plan," Reaper said. "Briar, you can come with me. Seth and Vixen-"

"I'm not going," Briar said.

Reaper shot her a look-more disappointed than surprised. "Why the hell not?"

"It's not my problem. And I think all this is a waste of time. We should be looking for Gregor. That is what you're getting paid to do, isn't it, Reaper?"

"I'm not on anyone's time clock."

She nodded. "You might want to at least sniff the air for him while you're out hunting for Topaz's long-lost mommy. Maybe even ask around. If you find out anything, you can let me know."

"Are you really so eager to get back to the man who tortured you?" Reaper shook his head sadly, then just sighed as Briar stalked into the bungalow and let the screen door slam behind her.

"Reaper, I'd like you to ride with me tonight," Jack said.

Topaz was surprised, and judging by the look on his face, Reaper was suspicious.

"Fine by me," he said. "Topaz, you can team up with Seth and Vixen tonight."

"How about Ilyana and me?" Roxy asked. "As mortals, even though we're Chosen, we can't very well go poking around known vampire haunts asking nosy questions."

"No, that probably wouldn't go over too well," Jack said.

"I was thinking you could work online tonight," Reaper said. "Find any references to Mirabella sightings that have appeared in the tabloids in the past six months or so, cross-reference them with Mexico, and see what comes up."

"Hell, Reaper," Roxy said. "The only thing that could possibly give me more search results would be if I were looking for Elvis."

He smiled. "I know. It's a big job, but there just might a grain of truth in one of them, and it could help."

She nodded. "I brought my laptop. I'll go up to the main hotel and see what they have to offer by way of an Internet connection. God, please don't let it be dial-up."

Jack snagged a notepad from his pocket, jotted down an address and handed it to Topaz. "You guys can check out this one. Reaper and I will take the other. Call Reaper's cell if you find anything, and if not, we'll meet back here as soon as we've finished, all right?"

She nodded.

"All right. I'll see you in a few hours, then."

She waited for him to wrap his arms around her and kiss her goodbye, but he didn't make any move to do so. She could feel his uncertainty. God, was he regretting his impulsive words already? Was he already changing his mind?

He gave her a small, secret smile, then hurried to his car.

"Come on, Tope. The car's in the parking lot," Seth said.

"What are you driving?" she asked him.

He just met her eyes and smiled. "What do you think?"

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